Remember that great old mid-’60s Four Tops hit “It’s The Same Old Song”?
Well, that’s the theme for the new Lexus flagship, the LS 430.
Once again Lexus has crafted a technically excellent luxury automobile — clearly one of the world’s finest — only to saddle it with a controversial and unoriginal appearance.
In previous years, the LS has had Mercedes envy. It’s almost as if Lexus is reluctant to establish its own identity with a signature grille and original taillights. I conclude that Lexus is afraid that if it doesn’t make the LS look like a Mercedes, then luxury car buyers won’t compare the two brands when shopping.
From the rear, the LS 430 is a brazen rip-off of a 5-year-old Mercedes S-Class. From the front, the big, bug-eye headlights look like something Cadillac might have designed for the DeVille and then thought better of it.
Lexus apparently thinks it can cash in on Mercedes’ heritage by making its big sedan look like a Benz.
Bad move; buyers willing to part with 60 large are much smarter than that.
Lexus has lost its once-formidable cachet among luxury car buyers. If it weren’t for SUVs, Lexus would no longer be a player in the luxury car market.
Those who were looking for Lexus to emerge from the shadows of its competitors with the new LS 430 are going to be sorely disappointed. The passionate styling statement, so clearly evident in such luxury cars as the Jaguar S-Type, Mercedes S-Class and big BMWs, is nowhere to be found in the LS 430. And if you can’t look good in a luxury car, why buy it?
The LS gets more power this year, a 4.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-8 with double overhead cams and 32 valves. Just about every high tech piece of engine hardware, from variable valve timing to an electronically controlled throttle, is onboard the new Lexus.
Last year’s LS engine also produced 290 horsepower, but it came from a 4.0-liter V-8. This time around, the engine doesn’t need to work as hard to deliver its power through a five-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.
Lexus claims the LS 430 will rocket to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. I believe it. Too bad the stylists of the LS 430 didn’t have as much passion as the engineers. As always, the LS is a technical masterpiece.
The engine gives you the feeling that you could never wear it out. I suppose after several million miles it would get a little tired. But if ever there were an engine that inspired trust and confidence, the LS 430’s engine is it.
The five-speed automatic transmission can be set to “sport” mode, which makes the shifts a bit more crisp.
The underpinnings of the LS 430 include four-wheel independent suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes.
The LS 430 has a soft but moderately sporty ride. At nearly 4,000 pounds the LS is no lightweight, but its size is also no detriment. It gives the car a very stable and solid feel. This is especially noticeable on rough roads.
In recent years, Mercedes has taken on more of a sporting feel. This is one trait that Lexus opted not to emulate. The LS 430 is more of a pure luxury car, much like a Cadillac DeVille. Its performance and personality tell me that Lexus is aiming at older drivers with the LS 430.
If you really want to know what it feels like driving the LS 430, imagine driving on a billiard table. The LS 430’s suspension turns roads into billiard-smooth surfaces.
Technically, one would have to place the car’s refinement and performance at the front of the luxury pack.
Fit and finish
The interior of the LS 430, thankfully, owes very little to other cars.
The one original thing that Lexus did do to change the industry — b ck-lighted instruments — remains on the new LS 430. After 11 years, there are still few, if any, instrument clusters that convey such a warm sense of luxury and class. The analog gauges look superb bathed as they are in bright white light.
Our test car came with the optional ($4,000) GPS navigation and Lexus Link ($1,215) systems. GPS technology has gotten shockingly good in recent years. As I drove down Edgewater Drive, the Lexus system displayed each cross street, missing nothing. The system is very easy to use.
A touch screen system lets the driver or passenger look up an address and instruct the system to plot the way there.
The Lexus Link system is another name for General Motors’ innovative OnStar safety and convenience service. You can summon help, or it will be sent automatically if the air bags deploy, or you can use the service to book hotels and make other arrangements for you while on a road trip.
I found the interior appointments to be first class all the way. But there was not much new that I hadn’t seen before in other cars. You expect a memory system for the seats, an electronically adjusted steering wheel, seat heaters and all the de rigueur luxury accouterments. And they are all there.
Rear-seat passengers will find ample foot, leg- and headroom. The stereo system with in-dash, six-disc CD changer delivers crystal-clear sound.
Steering wheel controls for the radio are a nice touch.
So what lies ahead for the LS 430? Probably lackluster sales and big incentives.
There are just too many interesting European luxury cars with more personality and originality. If I am right, here’s how you will know: A quick redesign of the body usually signifies failure in the marketplace. The LS 430 is far too good a car to be trapped in such a stupendously mediocre body.
Test Drive: 2001 Lexus LS 430
Truett’s tip: Technically, the LS 430 is great. But in terms of appearance, the combination of Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz styling is a disaster. Consumer information:
Base price: $54,005. Safety: Dual front and side-impact air bags, front and rear side curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and daytime running lights. Price as tested: $59,990 EPA rating: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Incentives: None.